New Automated Census Provides Glimpse of 19th Century U.S.

SALT LAKE CITY – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced the release of the 1880 U.S. Census on CD-ROM, a major research tool for family history enthusiasts.

The new database is the largest census to be automated to date. It is the culmination of 17 years and 11.5 million hours of work and encompasses a whopping 56 CDs.

By simply entering an ancestor’s name, users can quickly search the 50,475,366 inhabitants of the 38 United States and eight territories as they existed in June 1880 to discover the whereabouts and other detailed information regarding their relatives.

In June 1880, thousands of federal census enumerators — traveling on foot, horseback and by wagon — combed the inner cities, towns, backwoods and frontiers of the United States, diligently capturing detailed information on individuals and their households. With paper and pencil, they filled out their enumerator sheets containing each individual’s name, relationship to the head of the household, age, gender, race, marital status, occupation, birthplace and birthplace of parents. No federal census was taken in Indian Territory, which comprises present-day Oklahoma.

“This new automated census has a far-reaching impact on family history research in the U.S., because it increases access to a highly significant source of information for all families in all parts of the U.S. in 1880,” said David E. Rencher, director of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Because the 1890 census was destroyed by fire, there is no other federal source like this for 20 years. It makes the 1880 U.S. Census of tremendous value,” added Rencher.

Manually finding an ancestor’s entry in the 1880 census was an ominous task until the release of this new searchable database on CD-ROM. In order to find a person, researchers had to know where an individual lived at the time. Without knowing an ancestor’s place of residence, family history researchers were mostly unsuccessful in their attempts to find an individual’s census listing.

In the 1860s and ’70s, westward expansion across the U.S. had a tremendous impact on families. Because of limited sources of communication during this period, families lost contact with those who migrated to other parts of America. The whereabouts of these ancestors became more uncertain with each passing generation. There were only 38 organized states at the time.

The majority of the Midwest and West encompassed nine territories. For family history enthusiasts today, bridging the gap made by families who crossed the plains can be almost as difficult as researching those who crossed the ocean. The 1880 census helps to bridge those gaps. The automated census enables family historians to find the individuals who migrated and their respective households.

As with any project of this magnitude, the census data presented many challenges to those preparing it for automated publication. To ensure the integrity of the original content, the Church received assistance from the Minnesota Population Center of the University of Minnesota.

The new product (all 56 CDs) can be used free of charge at most of the Church’s 3500 family history centers, or it can be purchased for $49 on the Internet at or through the Church’s distribution centers worldwide (1-800-537-5971, item 50168). The price includes shipping and handling.

Minimum System Requirements Windows 95/98/ME/NT 4.0+/2000 version IBM-compatible Pentium processor 8 MB RAM; 16 MB recommended 35 MB hard disk space 256-color display 4x CD-ROM drive

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* Audio sound bites from Dave Rencher
* Photos of original Census Sheet and computer automated view of Alexander Graham Bell